Ascetic

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If there’s anything good that came from living in a country where the one and only strategy against the coronavirus is to basically rotate through different quarantine statuses while waiting for a vaccine, many of us have been forced to rethink our lifestyles and priorities over the past six months as we endured the world’s strictest and longest lockdown.

If we come to think of it, we surely must have achieved something over the past six months of quarantining.We may have not flattened the curve as a nation but some of us must’ve have picked up new hobbies, such as baking or indoor gardening. Others have learned life skills for the new normal like online shopping and taking part in Zoom meetings. The rest of us have learned to stay put for months on end.

One thing I noticed as I approach middle age is that as I started caring less about what people think of me, my lifestyle was becoming more monk-ish and ascetic. I stopped caring about my material possessions and the way I looked. As long my wardrobe passed my wife’s standards, I was fine. Furthermore, I had become less envious of other people’s material possessions and lifestyles.

When I was younger, thanks to my mother’s rigorous training in the art of kuripot, I had always thought of myself as “kuripot na biga-on.” I aspired for the good things and fancy brands but was not willing to pay the full price. So I’d pick my spots and buy only when the good stuff was on sale, went after the previous year’s upper tier models after the new models were released, or scoured the second hand market for great deals. However, as I grew older, I noticed that I was leaning more towards the kuripot side than biga-on. I was turning ascetic instead of aesthetic and I was liking my character development arc.

I had already noticed this shift in my worldview even before the pandemic and had been drafting an article about the contentment of settling into a lifestyle that was growing more ascetic. It was interesting to see how such a mindset could make it possible to avert the usual mid-life crisis of wanting a sports car or a trophy concubine.

The tipping point for my monk-like lifestyle that had been growing at the back of my mind was when the pandemic forced us all to stay home for months on end. Suddenly, I didn’t even have to care about my clothes anymore. There was a time when I reckon that my shoes probably thought I was dead because our shoe cabinet remained closed for weeks. If and when I do go out into the world, the priority was comfort and easy to sanitize. Brands and accessories didn’t matter anymore because nobody went out anyway.

I don’t know what the world will look like when our lives return to “normal”, but I’m certain that our six-month retreats must’ve affected the way we look at the world. We have been spending so much time with our nuclear families that we must’ve rediscovered how much they mean to us. We have seen just how useless designer apparel, fancy jewelry, and expensive makeup can be. We have realized what refrigerator space, a well-equipped kitchen, and good air-conditioning can do for a home. Our priorities have shifted from aesthetics and other borloloy to a reliable internet service provider.

If it weren’t for social media, we wouldn’t know what the Joneses are up to. For those with the obsessive need to keep up with the Joneses, the lengthy quarantine should’ve provided both the remedy and the rehabilitation program for their condition.

The quarantine has taught us that we can stay home for extended periods. It encouraged us to live within our means, especially when it comes to managing scarce toilet paper. Our months of solitary isolation with the people who are supposed to matter most to us helped us realign our priorities, hopefully for the better.

Hopefully, too, by the time our retreat from society is fully lifted and we are allowed to have a “normal” existence, we come out of this collective experience as better humans. We don’t have to be ascetic monks at the end of this but we can definitely be more grounded, centered and human. It’s not something we set out to do when this ordeal started in March, but that’s the most we can do, given the time we’ve spent at home and with ourselves.

Government can disappoint and mess up for another six months but it is our choice if we are going to make the most of this situation and come out on top by force of will. Those of us who are privileged to be able to survive this without worrying about our next meal or losing our jobs, or lose a loved one to COVID or incompetence, can still make the past six months count if we leave our homes at the end of this with a rebooted and better outlook in life.*

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